Leadership Council for Human Rights

~ Feet in the mud, head in the sky ~

Friday, June 16, 2006

Vietnam: Montagnards Face Religious, Political Persecution

As reported by Human Rights Watch, numerous Vietnam refugees—who had previously been living in UNHCR camps in Cambodia—are returning to their home country receiving harsh treatment from Vietnamese authorities. HRW has described such ill-treatment (which includes interrogations, torture, and detainment) in a report released on June 14th entitled “No Sanctuary: Ongoing Threats to Indigenous Montagnards in Vietnam’s Central Highlands.” The report highlights the ongoing government regulated religious persecutions of the Montagnards indigenous peoples living in the Central Highlands region of Vietnam.

According to this piece,

“Vietnamese officials continue to force Montagnard Christians to sign pledges renouncing their religion, despite passage of new regulations last year banning such practices. Authorities in some areas restrict freedom of movement between villages – in particular for religious purposes not authorized by the government – and ban Christian gatherings in many areas unless they are presided over by officially recognized pastors.

“More worrisome, the Vietnamese government persists in criminalizing peaceful dissent, unsanctioned religious activity and efforts to seek sanctuary in Cambodia, by arresting and imprisoning Montagnards who engage in those activities. The most harshly treated are evangelical Christians who belong to independent or unregistered house churches and supporters of a non-violent movement for the protection of, and greater control over, ancestral lands.

“More than 350 Montagnards have been sentenced to prison since 2001, largely for peaceful political or religious activities. Most have been charged under Vietnam’s Penal Code with vaguely worded national security crimes. These include “undermining the unity policy,” “disrupting security” and “causing public disorder”. More than 60 Montagnards have been imprisoned after being forcibly returned from Cambodia, where they were seeking asylum.

“The arrests are ongoing: during 2005 alone, at least 142 people – some of whom had been in pre-trial detention for as much as a year – were sentenced to prison terms of up to 17 years. This is more than double the number imprisoned during the previous year. At least 30 of those sentenced in 2005 had been arrested in Cambodia or near the border areas, whilst trying to seek asylum. They were apprehended by Cambodian police and turned over to Vietnamese authorities without having a chance to make an asylum claim with UNHCR. The report includes an annex listing Central Highland prisoners.”

To read the article in full, click here
To read HRW “No Sanctuary” report, click here

Vietnam Denounces Human Rights Watch report on Treatment of Ethnic Groups

As reported by Vietnamese News Agency, Le Dung—Vietnamese Foreign Ministry spokesman—has denounced the claims recently published in a HRW report. Although the report gives detailed information that Vietnamese officials have been abusing recent returnees from refugee camps in Cambodia, Le Dung denies any such maltreatment.

According to this piece,

“Vietnamese Foreign Ministry spokesman Le Dung on 14 Junedismissed a Human Rights Watch (HRW) report citing ill-treatment ofethnic minority people in the Central Highlands as a sheer fabrication.

“Speaking toreporters on 14 June, the spokesman said: 'HRW's report was built ondistorted information to smear the Vietnamese state's policy on ethnicminority people in the Central Highlands.

“ ‘For ethnic minority groups in the Central Highlands, as others, the state has paid attention to, and created all conditions for, the improvement of material and spiritual lives, and carried out policies to better people's lives in all fields. In Vietnam, there exists no repression of ethnic minority people, nor religious repression; nobody is detained for religious reasons.’

“The spokesman stressed: ‘The Vietnamese state respects and protectsfreedom of belief and religion and freedom of non-belief andnon-religion of all citizens. The enactment and implementation of thenew legal documents on religion have enabled clergies and followers,including ethnic minority people in the Central Highlands, to practisetheir religious faith in line with the law.’ ”

To read this article in full, click here

Thursday, June 15, 2006

EU-Egypt: Human Rights, Nuclear Weapons Block Association Deal

As reported by AKI, the European Union Neighborhood Action Plan with Egypt has yet to reach final negotiations. In fact, specific protocol for the pact has been held up for the past two years due to the clash between Egypt’s and the EU’s varying stances on human rights in Egypt and nuclear weapons in the Middle East.

Egypt has been insisting that the EU Neighborhood Action Plan include language about banning nuclear arms throughout the Middle East. In other words, Egypt is hinting that it would like the EU to focus on banning Israel’s nuclear program.

While the EU will not agree to such a demand, Egypt refuses to abide by the EU’s desire to address the human rights abuses in Egypt. Concerned about the slow pace of democratization in Egypt, the EU would like to address the independence of Egypt’s judiciary within the EU Neighborhood Action Plan.

The Neighborhood Action Plan will lead to freer trade between Egypt and the EU and may increase the amount of EU economic aid for Egypt. However, such results will not take place until both sides can reach some sort of compromise.

According to this piece,

“Egypt wanted to include a reference in the agreement to its position that the Middle East should be free of nuclear arms - a tacit demand that the EU tackle Israel's nuclear programme - the EU ambassador in Cairo, Klaus Ebermann told Reuters news agency.

“EU neighbourhood action plans are intended to allow closer economic, political and cultural ties but are conditional upon countries carrying out reforms in these areas. The EU continues to have concerns over Egypt's human rights record and the pace of democratisation. However, Egypt's foreign minister, Ahmed Aboul Gheit reportedly told the European side during one-day talks in Luxembourg that political change must stem from Egyptian concepts, and that his government would not accept political conditions.

“El Kamel told AKI that the differences over human rights that had emerged between the two sides during Tuesday's talks were "purely formal," and that Gheit said he could not comment on 'definitions and details' that the EU had inserted in the text of the agreement before he consulted the Egyptian cabinet.

“ ‘Further complications arose over the insertion of a paragraph on the independence of Egypt's magistrates, but I believe that conforming to democratic standards does not necessarily mean passively following the position of others on the question,’ El Kamel noted.”

To read the article in full, click here

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Suppression of Unauthorized Women’s Rally has Student Group Angry

As reported on the Radio Free Europe’s Website, a women’s rights demonstration held on June 12 in Tehran was violently suppressed. June 12 is not an unusual date for rallies to be held. After demonstrations held on this date last year, women are trying to establish it as an unofficial Women’s Day. Ali Jahanbakhsh, Director-General for political and police affairs of the Tehran Governor-General’s Office said that “any group that wants to hold a rally or other demonstration must first obtain a permit from the Tehran Governor-General’s Office.” A security Official from the demonstration said that a permit had not been obtained by the women. The article reports that as a result, the organizers of the rally received court summonses. The suppression of the women’s rally has angered the Office for Strengthening Unity, a politically active student organization. Members of this group have “called for the immediate release of the arrested participants,” including some of the groups own members.

To read more from Radio Free Europe click here.

Women Leaders Insist on Protecting Mothers and Children

As reported in the Middle East Times by Hala Boncompagni, women leaders came together and pledged to “mobilize for their sisters and children across the world,” on Sunday, June 11. Among these leaders were Queen Rania of Jordan, former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, and former Irish President Mary Robinson.

Boncompagni reports that the conference aims to launch a “Global Women’s Action Network for Children.” Organizers said that the network will be “a new international advocacy group led by prominent women from around the world dedicated to identifying, funding and supporting programs to help women, girls, and infants.”

In the article Boncompagni also states that Albright pledged that the network will “turn the world’s agenda right side up,” inviting world governments to help the initiative succeed. “We caution every government that you cannot stop us. Our message this morning is that we have had enough of dreaming. We are doers. We demand results,” she said.

To read this article in full click here.

The Wrong Way to Sway Egypt

In Tuesday's Op-Ed section of the Washington Post, Jon B. Alterman criticizes the recent proposed bill to reduce foreign aid to Egypt. The FY-07 budget discussed in the House last Thursday coupled together two key issues: US promotion of democracy in Egypt and the current state of US foreign aid for Egypt. Alterman does not support linking finance aid initiatives with Egypt to its growth of a democratic state (or lack there of) because combining these two issues would be “counterproductive.”

According to the op-ed,

“There are many in Washington who think that Egyptian politics turned around last spring because of President Bush's demonstrated resolve to promote political change in that country. They further believe that the leadership in Cairo reverted to its bad old ways when Bush's attention strayed.

“They are wrong on both counts. Profound change was never in the air in Egypt. Some Americans may have been ebullient about changes afoot there, but Egyptians' level of political participation told a different story: Fewer than 5 percent of the electorate bothered to vote in last May's referendum on allowing multi-candidate elections for president, and perhaps 20 percent voted in the presidential election itself.

“Misreading this history causes many to believe that the United States should turn up the pressure and condition its aid to Egypt on continued political reform. This is a move that makes sense on its face. It also happens to make bad policy. The U.S. government should continue to press hard for reform in Egypt, and it should closely scrutinize the aid package. But linking the two would be counterproductive, if not disastrous.

“Like the aging villas in downtown Cairo, U.S. aid to Egypt is the fading legacy of another time. In the 1970s, when peace between Israel and any of its Arab neighbors was a fantastic dream, and when picking Egypt off from the East Bloc was a major coup in the Cold War, Egypt was worth every penny of the billions of dollars in U.S. aid that it received.

“Three decades later, the Soviet Union is gone, the Arab League has embraced a two-state solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict, and al-Jazeera's maps label Israel as such. Egypt helps the United States in a wide number of areas -- especially with regard to counterterrorism cooperation and Arab-Israeli peace issues -- but it is increasingly difficult to find instances in which Egyptian assistance has been vital to the success of a critical U.S. mission.”

To read this article in full, click here

Monday, June 12, 2006

Egypt Police Arrest 110 Muslim Brotherhood Members

As reported by Reuters, 110 members of the Muslim Brotherhood were arrested today, Monday, June 12th , amidst a protest organized by the Brotherhood to support Hassan el-Hayawan—who was recently put on trial for obstruction of voting, illegal possession of firearms, and being a member of the Brotherhood, which is considered an illegal organization in Egypt.

To end the demonstration, the police beat the protesters with sticks, released teargas, rubber bullets, and water cannons.

According to this piece,

“Egyptian police arrested 110 members of the Muslim Brotherhood on Monday, and beat and teargassed others as they protested outside a courthouse in which a prominent Brotherhood member was on trial, sources said.

“The group's Web site and an eyewitness said thousands of police had surrounded the demonstrators in the large Nile Delta town of Zasgazig and had dispersed the crowd using sticks, teargas, rubber bullets and water cannons.

“The Web site said 10 demonstrators had been injured and 110 arrested but an eyewitness gave a higher figure. Egypt's Interior Ministry was not immediately available for comment.

“‘The police attacked with sticks, teargas and water cannons. There were people injured through suffocation and beatings. People were taken to hospital,’ witness Nasser Nouri said.”

To read this article in full, click here

Egypt: Opposition MPs Demand Nour’s Release

As reported by AKI, an appeal was sent to President Hosni Mubarak containing over one-hundred Members of Parliament signatures. The appeal requests that Mubarak order the release of imprisoned former Ghad party leader, Ayman Nour.

Nour ran for president in last September’s elections where, according to official governmental figures, he came in second to Mubarak with seven percent of the votes. He was then sentenced to five years in prison in December for forging signatures when registering the Ghada party for the September elections.

Despite the international community’s negative criticism of Nour’s conviction—many believe he is innocent and was jailed solely because he is a threat to Mubarak’s rule—no major international measures have been taken to free Nour. The appeal of Egypt’s opposition MPs is the first of many crucial steps needed to release the politician.

According to this piece,

“Over 100 Egyptian MPs have signed an appeal asking president Hosni Mubarak to order the release of Ayman Nour, former leader of the Ghad party [Tomorrow]. Among the signatories are 67 members of the Muslim Brotherhood, the Islamic radical movement which is officially banned but tolerated, and has 88 MPs in parliament. Members of other opposition groups and independent MPs also signed the appeal with which they asked the government 'to grant pardon' to Nour.

"Egyptian newspapers' sources revealed that originally nine members of president's Mubarak National Democratic Party (NDP) were also among the subscribers, but on second thoughts they withdrew their support without giving any explanation.

"'They were certainly pushed to renounce by their party,' said one of the appeal's authors, independent MP Talat Sadat. He also added that 'we will carry on with our request, because Nour's release can be obtained only through Mubarak's intervention.'"

To read this article in full, click here

Egypt: Cabinet Summoned for Justice Reform

As reported by AKI, the Egyptian cabinet will meet in extraordinary session on Wednesday to approve the final draft of a controversial judicial reform bill which would create a judiciary completely independent from the executive power. According to Judges Club members, the government is blatantly ignoring the magistrates request for a democratic reform because that would mean that the executive would have to give up absolute power.

Even more evident is the fact that the government has not allowed any members of the Judges Club to review this final draft of the judicial reform bill. This has led many to believe that the final draft will not include the innovative independence the magistrates are demanding: instead, it will just be an empty law.

According to this piece,

“The Egyptian cabinet has been summoned in extraordinary session for Wednesday to approve the final text of a much awaited judicial reform bill. The government, which met last week, had decided to send the bill back to the legal committee to resolve some controversial points. 'The committee met three times in the past seven days' government spokesman Madi Radi told daily Al-Masri al-Yom, ‘to find an accord on reforming a delicate sector like the magistrature. We are certain that this time there will not be any problems.’

"The Judges Club, the body which has the role of a trade union for magistrates and which has waged a battle with the executive over the independence of the judiciary, said it had not yet received any copy of the law which the government is preparing to present to the chamber of deputies.

"'The bill currently under discussion does not respect the positions of the judiciary' said Nagi Darbala, deputy president of the Supreme Court and Judges Club member. 'The fact that we have not been given the chance to examine the text before it is presented to parliament is a clear violation of our independence’ Darbala added.”

To read this article in full, click here

House Spurns Effort to Prod Egypt

As reported by the Associated Press on Thursday, June 8th, the House of Representatives voted 225-198 to reject a proposal that would cut finance aids to Egypt. The proposal, called to cut $100million from the $1.7billion Egypt would be receiving in the $21.3billion foreign aid bill. Supporters of the proposal included Representatives Tom Lantos, David Obey and Henry Hyde, all of whom had the hopes of sending a stern message to Egypt; clean up the country’s human rights record or face aid cut-backs from the United States. Because the proposal didn’t pass, it appears that the House is currently more focused on maintaining Egypt as their strong ally in the Middle East rather than focusing on the internal affairs of the country and Mubarak’s abuses.

As printed in the New York Times,

“WASHINGTON (AP) -- The House beat back a bipartisan effort Thursday to prod Egypt to strengthen its commitment to democracy and improve its human rights record.
On a 225-198 vote, the House rejected a proposal that would have cut $100 million from the $1.7 billion in assistance slated for Egypt in a $21.3 billion foreign aid bill.

“The House was expected to overwhelmingly approve the bill on Friday. It is $2.4 billion less than what President Bush requested for the budget year that begins Oct. 1. The Senate has not yet completed its version of the bill.

“Overall, the House measure would provide $2.4 billion in aid for Israel, $2 billion for the administration's hallmark program designed to reward developing nations for a commitment to democracy and $522 million to promote stabilization and reconstruction of Iraq.

“The measure also includes the $3.4 billion the president requested to combat HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria throughout the world and the $450 million he wanted for assistance in Sudan, including $138 million for the Darfur region.

“Reps. David Obey of Wisconsin, the top Democrat on the House Appropriations Committee, and Henry Hyde, R-Ill., and Tom Lantos, D-Calif., the senior members of the House International Relations Committee, wanted to add another $50 million for each of those two initiatives -- and send Egypt a message by cutting $100 million from its assistance package.”

To read this article in full, click here

"Where Are the Iraqi Women?"

Kathryn Westcott reports to BBC News Online that, as Iraq is beginning to “establish an interim government that reflects the country’s diverse ethnic and religious character,” the question of “where are the women – who make up the majority of the population – in this process?”

Former U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage told BBC that, “if there’s an area where I feel thus far we’ve fallen short, it is in the representation of women.” So far, Westcott reports, “there have been two meeting aimed at forging a constitutional future for the country, but out of more than 250 delegates, only six were women.”

Elisabeth Rehn, independent author of an extensive report for the United Nations, Women, War and Peace, says that, “the issue needs to be addressed urgently because choices are already beginning to be made about who will be elected to official bodies.” Ms. Rehn says that “the UK government is trying to get women involved, but one of the real difficulties is that among the Iraqi exile groups, the participation of women is not seen as a primary issue.”

Westcott reports that “both the US and UK Governments have said they are committed to getting more women involved.”

To read this article in full click here.

Taliban Violence Increases

Amir Shah reported in the Washington Post that in a recent attack, Taliban violence in Kabul, Afghanistan has killed 26 people. This is another episode in the increased violence that Afghanistan has seen in the recent months. According to the article, “Taliban militants have stepped up attacks across the volatile south, and in the past three weeks more than 400 people have been killed.”

Shah reports that “the latest bloodshed came as the U.S. military released 33 Afghans from a prison at Bagram Air Base.” Shah reports that “some of those prisoners accused U.S. troops of putting down protests with unspecified gas that made inmates drowsy and restricted their breathing.” However, the U.S. says that they never received any formal complaints.

In a related story reported in the Washington Post by Daniel Cooney, “much of the recent Taliban fighting is believed to be funded by the country’s $2.8 billion trade in opium and heroin—about 90 percent of the world’s supply.”

Cooney also reports that “the daily violence has raised fears of Taliban resurgence.” Coalition spokesman, Lt. Col. Paul Fitzpatrick says, “We will not be deterred from our mission to provide a safe and secure environment to the Afghan people.”

To read these articles in full click here and here

As the U.S. Shifts Some Tasks to NATO, the Taliban Surges

As reported in the New York Times by Carlotta Gall, “American forces are handing over operations in southern Afghanistan to a NATO force of mainly Canadian, British, and Dutch troops, and militants have taken advantage of the transition to swarm into rural areas.”

Gall reports that “the Taliban are running checkpoints on secondary roads” in rural village areas, forcing many people to flee and seek refuge in nearby cities and other small towns. “The situation is really, in the last four years, the most unstable and insecure I have seen,” said Talatbek Masadykov, who is in charge of the United Nations assistance mission in Kandahar.

The article reports that NATO “has deployed a 9,700 member force in Afghanistan that will grow to 16,000.” While NATO is deploying troops, “the United States will reduce its force by about 3,000 and keep 20,000 in the country under a separate American chain of command.”

Gall reports that the Canadian commander of forces in southern Afghanistan, Brig. Gen. David Fraser, is firmly optimistic. “The Taliban have this great ability to blend into the villages and towns, but they are not the superstar people make them out to be. They are capable fighters, but defeatable.”

To read this article in full click here.

Fear Plague’s Iraq’s Attorney’s

As reported in the Washington Post by Nelson Hernandez and Saad al-Izzi, “Iraq’s legal system, once one of the most secular in the Middle East, is in shambles.” Since the invasion of Iraq in 2003 and the toppling of Saddam Hussein’s regime, “many of the best-educated have fled the country.” While the lawyers’ union, Iraq’s equivalent to the bar association, is still functioning, it is not without fear. Kamal Hamdoun, head of Iraq’s lawyers’ union says that, “police are afraid to investigate sectarian murders and lawyers are afraid to take either side of a case and risk the wrath of powerful militia’s or well-armed gangs.”

Iraq’s legal system had been designed in the 1920’s “to resemble the Egyptian and French models.” The system “generally meted out fair justice guided by well-trained lawyers and judges.” Khaled Abou El Fadl, a law professor at UCLA and a scholar of Islamic law said that, “it was an impressive overall legal system, as long as it did not get into the political sphere.”

The Washington Post reports that the lawyers and American legal scholars are blaming the United States for the lack of legal organization. “When the U.S. military came in, they basically destroyed the entire infrastructure of the state,” said Chief Bassiouni, a law professor at DePaul University and President of the International Human Rights Law Institute.

The article reports that many Iraqi lawyers believe that “nearly every part of the criminal justice system is tainted, from the moment police arrest someone to the trial, judgment and the corrections system.” The situation has taken a toll on many of the lawyers. “The best lawyers have already left eh country or sought other jobs,” Jubouri, an Iraqi lawyer states. He continues, “I’m not proud. When I introduce myself, I do not say I’m a lawyer.”

To read this article in full click here.